MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to ban Cabinet members from attending a Senate investigation into the alleged misuse of pandemic funds was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” among medical professionals, who signed a statement expressing "outrage" at the alleged corruption committed during the pandemic.
At least five former health secretaries, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), and various medical groups is asking Duterte to stop blocking the Senate's investigation into alleged anomalies in the government's purchase of COVID-19 supplies.
“I think you might call this the straw that broke the camel’s back,” former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Tuesday.
Cabral is one of the signatories of the statement, that also include ex-Health secretaries Manuel Dayrit, Enrique Ona, and Carmencita Reodica.
“In fact, over the last 19 months or so, health professionals and allied medical professionals have seen, with increasing dismay, the poor COVID response that our government has towards this pandemic.”
“And not only that, it became clear that there were questions of graft and corruption, anomalies in many of the actions that our government has taken. And so, when the issue of Pharmally came and the hearings in the Senate were being prevented from getting to the truth, because the President actually said that the government officials should not go there anymore, we felt that we needed to express our indignation and our frustration and anger and we needed to say, 'Please, enough is enough, and let’s do what is right',” she said.
Cabral said the Senate probe is significant for both health workers and patients dealing with COVID-19.
“It is going to be very significant because if it’s proven that our government officials have conspired with private individuals to waste the money of government, that should instead be going to providing medicines for our patients, protective [equipment] for our health workers. This is a very sad state we are in, something that needs to be corrected.”
Cabral added, “We want to the Senate probe to continue unfettered by orders of the president for government officials not to go there. We want to know exactly what happened.”
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the chamber's Blue Ribbon Committee, had said that the panel's investigation stemmed from a dialogue with health workers who complained about the health benefits due them that were not yet or belatedly released.
He said public funds wasted on anomalous transactions of government could have been used for the benefits of health workers who are in the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.
The statement from health leaders and groups is the latest in a growing chorus of voices opposing Duterte's recent memorandum barring his Cabinet secretaries from attending the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's probe.
Duterte earlier said he was not opposed to the investigation but disapproved of how the inquiries have interfered with the work of Cabinet members required to attend, including those related to the pandemic response.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said Duterte's order is unconstitutional, saying the Supreme Court has ruled as such in a similar case in 2006.
“Hindi sang-ayon at labag sa Saligang Batas na ipagbawal ang pagharap ng mga miyembro ng gabinete sa pagdinig ng Kongreso ‘in aid of legislation’ maliban lamang kung iyan ay may implikasyon sa ating national security at kung involved ang military at diplomatic secrets,” said Drilon, a former Justice and Executive Secretary.
(It is against the Constitution to prevent members of the Cabinet from attending congressional hearings in aid of legislation, except if it has national security implications and if military and diplomatic secrets are involved.)
“Ang pagnanakaw ay hindi national security issue, hindi ito military secret at lalong hindi ito diplomatic secret,” he added.
(Corruption is not a national security issue, nor is it a military secret or even a diplomatic secret.)
Duterte had said the government's transactions with Pharmally is above board.
Aside from alleged overpricing, some senators also suspect that Pharmally was favored by government because of its links with Davao-based businessman Michael Yang, a former economic adviser of Duterte.
--ANC, 12 October 2021